Brothers in Arms – Patrick and James Kenniff

Brothers in Arms – Patrick and James Kenniff

Amongst the last of the recognised Australian bushrangers, brothers Patrick and James Kenniff spent much of their long criminal careers as horse and cattle thieves – mostly around northern NSW and the backblocks of western Queensland.

From the mid 1880’s to the early 1900’s the Kenniffs were implicated in numerous cases of livestock theft, but in 1902 these already serious crimes escalated into murder – an escalation that would end on the gallows for Patrick.

On 30 March 1902 a police party consisting of Constable George Doyle, Station Manager Albert Dahlke and Aboriginal tracker Sam Johnson surprised the Kenniffs at their bushland camp in a remote location called Lethbridge’s Pocket.

James was captured immediately but Patrick escaped into the bush. Sam Johnson was sent back to collect the police horses and while he was away shots were heard. He returned to the campsite but was chased away by both Kenniffs and forced to flee the area.

A later search of the camp revealed signs of a gunfight and some 200 pounds of charcoal that were later identified as human remains – those of Doyle and Dahlke. It was concluded that Patrick had returned to the camp, with the brothers then overpowering and shooting their captors. Their bodies were then burnt in an attempt to conceal the murders.

Following the positing of a £1,000 reward a large police manhunt was mounted, and both brothers were captured three months later.

In their trial during November 1902 they were both found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. This sentence generated immediate and widespread controversy with many claiming that there was insufficient evidence to support the death sentence. No one had actually seen the shooting so considerable doubt existed as to who had actually pulled the trigger. Was it one brother – or indeed both – who were responsible?

Following an appeal James’ sentence was commuted to life in prison, but Patrick went to the gallows at Boggo Road Gaol on 12 January 1903.  He protested his innocence to the last.

In a substantial departure from normal procedure, Patrick Kenniff’s body was placed in a cedar coffin and the hearse was accompanied to the cemetery by a funeral procession of some 400 mourners.


Image: Patrick Kenniff – a photograph that appeared in “The Queenslander” 12 April 1902, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.